Adding human glial cells to mice brains found to improve memory and cognition

December 3, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Glial cells in a rat brain stained with an antibody against GFAP. Credit: Orchinik Lab, Arizona State University, via Wikipedia

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers working at the University of Rochester in New York, has found that injecting glial cells into a mouse brain caused an improvement in both memory and cognition in the mouse. In their paper published in The Journal of Neuroscience, the team explains how they injected the test mice and then tested them afterwards to see what impact it had on their abilities.

Injecting human into mice brains appears to be the stuff of horror films, but in this case, it wasn't really what it might have seemed. Glial cells are precursors to other cells—in this case, they develop into astrocytes, which are technically, brain cells. But, the important distinction here is that they are not neurons, which means they are not involved in thinking—instead they are involved in memory retention and help with housekeeping tasks.

Last year, the team injected mature into mice brains and reported improvements in ability by the mice—this time they went further, injecting progenitor precursor glial cells, which allows for development of more astrocytes. The team injected just 300,000 of the cells (from donated human embryos) and found just 12 months later that they had multiplied to grow to 12 million, completely displacing the original mouse astrocytes. It appeared, the team reported, that the cell growth only stopped when it reached the physical confines of the skull. They also note that it was interesting that the glial could thrive in such an environment considering that astrocytess in people are 10 to 20 times as big as those in mice and they carry 100 times as many tendrils. Testing the mice showed that their memory was far superior to normal mice and they had improved cognition as well.

In another experiment, the researchers injected mice that had a form of mouse multiple sclerosis with the same types of glial cells—the mice had trouble with generating myelin, the protein nerve insulator, which is problematic for those with MS. They found that a lot of the glial they injected into the matured into oligodendrocytes which are responsible for myelin generation—somehow the brain had recognized what was lacking and made corrections based on the new cell presence.

The team is considering testing the same procedure with other animals, but says it will not do it with monkeys—the ethical issues might become too great.

Explore further: New tools in fight against virus that attacks the brain

More information: A Competitive Advantage by Neonatally Engrafted Human Glial Progenitors Yields Mice Whose Brains Are Chimeric for Human Glia The Journal of Neuroscience, 26 November 2014, 34(48): 16153-16161; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1510-14.2014

Neonatally transplanted human glial progenitor cells (hGPCs) densely engraft and myelinate the hypomyelinated shiverer mouse. We found that, in hGPC-xenografted mice, the human donor cells continue to expand throughout the forebrain, systematically replacing the host murine glia. The differentiation of the donor cells is influenced by the host environment, such that more donor cells differentiated as oligodendrocytes in the hypomyelinated shiverer brain than in myelin wild-types, in which hGPCs were more likely to remain as progenitors. Yet in each recipient, both the number and relative proportion of mouse GPCs fell as a function of time, concomitant with the mitotic expansion and spread of donor hGPCs. By a year after neonatal xenograft, the forebrain GPC populations of implanted mice were largely, and often entirely, of human origin. Thus, neonatally implanted hGPCs outcompeted and ultimately replaced the host population of mouse GPCs, ultimately generating mice with a humanized glial progenitor population. These human glial chimeric mice should permit us to define the specific contributions of glia to a broad variety of neurological disorders, using human cells in vivo.

Related Stories

New tools in fight against virus that attacks the brain

November 18, 2014

Researchers have developed new insight into a rare but deadly brain infection, called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). This disease – which is caused by the JC virus – is most frequently found in people ...

The brain's forgotten glial cells

October 10, 2014

For a long time, researchers have neglected the 100 million glial cells found in our brains, but that is no longer the case. Now they have discovered that the glial cells cleanse the brain of waste.

Recommended for you

Forgetting can make you smarter

June 21, 2017

For most people having a good memory means being able to remember more information clearly for long periods of time. For neuroscientists too, the inability to remember was long believed to represent a failure of the brain's ...

Serotonin improves sociability in mouse model of autism

June 21, 2017

Scientists at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute (BSI) in Japan have linked early serotonin deficiency to several symptoms that occur in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Published in Science Advances, the study examined serotonin ...

Three ways neuroscience can advance the concussion debate

June 21, 2017

While concussion awareness has improved over the past decade, understanding the nuances of these sports injuries, their severity, symptoms, and treatment, is still a work in progress. In the June 21 issue of Neuron, UCLA ...

The brain mechanism behind multitasking

June 21, 2017

Although "multitasking" is a popular buzzword, research shows that only 2% of the population actually multitasks efficiently. Most of us just shift back and forth between different tasks, a process that requires our brains ...

Untangling the complex puzzle of optic nerve regeneration

June 21, 2017

The optic nerve is vital for vision—damage to this critical structure can lead to severe and irreversible loss of vision. Fengfeng Bei, PhD, a principal investigator in the Department of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women's ...

Researchers discover brain inflammation in people with OCD

June 21, 2017

A new brain imaging study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows for the first time that brain inflammation is significantly elevated - more than 30 per cent higher - in people with obsessive-compulsive ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (3) Dec 03, 2014
I wonder what effect it would have on the genetics of the mouse? Would the mouse be able to pass down any of these abilities? Or would the genetic programming of their offspring require the cell injection, or be hindered without?

This is somewhat scary stuff, though, what if one of those mice escaped and reproduced. That is the basis for my questions above, I wonder if these new abilities will transfer to the offspring of the enhanced mice..
5 / 5 (4) Dec 03, 2014
I highly doubt its offspring would have any human glial cells. If this was achieved by a viral vector then maybe, but they were injected. It'd sorta be like saying 'I wonder if my kid will be born with a prosthetic leg because his mother has one.'
5 / 5 (2) Dec 03, 2014
No, human cells injected into the mice cannot be passed on since there was no DNA inserted into the germ line.
not rated yet Dec 03, 2014
Yes. The duration of these "new abilities" is NOT of duration. Every post generation will have less and less of these "new abilities" because the original artificially injected DNA (that enhanced "abilities" already present) is not passed on. See cjn.
Yes and no. The change observed in the mice are inheritable. The source (foreign DNA)
of change (memory and learning capacity) is irrelevant.
Yes. ( Meaning yes to your "No") The increased capacity is passed on, not the DNA inserted. The increase capacity will be inherited and every generation born after this in order will have less and less of the capacity inherited until a generation is born indistinguishable from mice never injected with foreign DNA.

Humans are born with DNA. None or little of the DNA you were born with is present when you of reproduction age.

Yes, the original sequence can still be present barring mutation. The original sequence you had at birth is long gone.

1 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2014
Why FOOLS are not adding A Dead Person's Brain to an Elephant/Whale's Brain?
FOOLS' Brains are devoid of Thinking/Intelligence!
Warry Brains are Full of Waste! Warring not Warry, eh?
not rated yet Dec 03, 2014
The sequence you had at birth matches the sequence you have now.
Thanks to repair, or, if you will, 'maintenance'. Original DNA is long gone.

Repair is the fundamental driven of evolution, not mutation. Both are needed for evolution.
Although this claim enhances all biological research, the holy grail of evolution at present is mutation, not repair. I expect to flamed out of existence until repair is gradually seen as just as influential as mutation as the fundamental driver of evolution. In the research above, repair is passed on, not DNA. Obviously.
not rated yet Dec 03, 2014
Why FOOLS are not adding A Dead Person's Brain to an Elephant/Whale's Brain?
FOOLS' Brains are devoid of Thinking/Intelligence!
Warry Brains are Full of Waste! Warring not Warry, eh?

Which is more Expensive?
A Dead Human's Brain or Elephant/Whale's?
not rated yet Dec 03, 2014
Corrections to typos.
you of reproduction age = you ARE of reproduction age.
not rated yet Dec 03, 2014
More typo corrections:
I expect to flamed... = I expect to BE flamed...

And we still expect the 'betterexists'. Evolution is slow.
not rated yet Dec 04, 2014
says it will not do it with monkeys—the ethical issues might become too great.

They are right, this could become reality
not rated yet Dec 04, 2014
Interesting link.

All you have to do is damage and repair the existing DNA of non humans primates so that the outcome of the repairs done remove the remaining differences in DNA sequences among the primates and humans.

The form or body in which human intelligence continues to evolve is irrelevant.

This will happen before the goal of A.I. is reached... if the goal of A.I. is to achieve human-like intelligence.

As far as I know this is not the goal of A.I.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.